What is FEM, and Why is it Important?

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District
Published Feb. 12, 2015
Electrician Connor Florey (left) asssists Mechanic Bryce Stasch (right) with new cooling coils to be installed on the hydropower units at Ft. Randall Dam.

Electrician Connor Florey (left) asssists Mechanic Bryce Stasch (right) with new cooling coils to be installed on the hydropower units at Ft. Randall Dam.

Senior Mechanic Rod Bergin inspects a hydro-electrical generator’s turbine shaft during annual maintenance of the unit at Fort Randall Dam.

Senior Mechanic Rod Bergin inspects a hydro-electrical generator’s turbine shaft during annual maintenance of the unit at Fort Randall Dam.

As a maintenance control technician, Laura Hubert's position requires her to understand the concepts of the hydroelectric plant at Fort Randall Dam, so that the maintenance of the facilities and equipment can be tracked and accounted for in the FEM database.

As a maintenance control technician, Laura Hubert's position requires her to understand the concepts of the hydroelectric plant at Fort Randall Dam, so that the maintenance of the facilities and equipment can be tracked and accounted for in the FEM database.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the nation’s leading provider of hydropower. Even still, power production is only one of eight authorized purposes for Omaha District’s six main-stem dams along the Missouri River. These dams, along with a system of federal and private levees, reduce flood risks for urban and agricultural property and to life and public safety throughout the Missouri River watershed. The Omaha District estimates that this system has prevented billions of dollars in damages.

In order for the dams to work properly, they need regular maintenance. To keep them running, each of the Corps’ dams has a staff of electricians, mechanics and outdoor maintenance crews to do the physical work. One of the more common maintenance tasks is performing annual maintenance on the hydropower units, each of which generate electricity for thousands of homes. To track the maintenance, the Corps uses a program called Facilities and Equipment Maintenance (FEM).

“We shut down the unit, and we pull it apart to make sure it works; we drain the oil out of it for regular maintenance and replace old parts,” said Rod Bergin, the senior mechanic at Fort Randall Dam in Pickstown, South Dakota, one of the six main-stem dams in the Omaha District. “FEM is a good system for tracking all these repairs. All the parts we order in FEM, and we can go through the system to see what we ordered if we need the part number.”

FEM is practical not only for the mechanics and electricians doing the physical labor needed to keep the dam in operating order. It also ties into the Corps’ financial management system, and has proven to be an effective tool for administrators and finance experts who need to keep track of high dollar assets, such as a dam.

IBM Maximo Asset Management, used in the private sector, is the parent program of FEM, a version of Maximo designed especially for the Corps. FEM has been used in hydropower projects in the Northwestern Division since 2000 and has been moving its way east to the other divisions, integrating more and more data as more features are put to use at the projects.

“Before FEM, when I first started here they used a different program that had a lot of failures and issues. That is how Maximo/FEM came along,” said Laura Hubert, the maintenance control technician at Fort Randall Dam, and the resident FEM expert. “It’s great for many things. You can add and link documents to provide greater history for anything that happens down the road. You can purchase in there which helps you to get the materials cost into the program. It’s a great place to capture everything: to track your costs, materials and labor against all the assets at the project.”

In short, FEM records everything that the laborers need to do to keep the dams running. All tasks are written down plainly in the work orders stored in the system. The worker writes down notes on the printed work order, entering pertinent data (such as oil levels or a voltage reading) for entry into FEM, along with how much time the task took, as well as what parts were used. All the work that an electrician or mechanic does is recorded in this system.

“All of the work we do is on a FEM work order,” said Bill Reiser, the senior electrician at Fort Randall. “If we’re assigned a task that’s not a routine work order, that helps us keep track of what may need to be done in our future preventative maintenance timelines. When we do our maintenance rounds and encounter a problem we put in a trouble report immediately to make sure it gets tracked."

Each month, the maintenance control technician at each project uses FEM to generate the regular preventative maintenance (PM) work orders for each of the maintenance crews. From there, the maintenance supervisor can schedule the regular preventative maintenance work for their employees, all while balancing hours to deal with non-routine incidental work requests called trouble reports (TRs).

A more recent integration at Fort Randall is the use of FEM to track supply purchases.

“We have started using FEM for purchase requests for a year and a half now,” said Mike Schenkel, the maintenance and operations manager at Fort Randall. “It saves us time; Maximo is a lot easier to work with for purchase requests, and it’s much more user friendly than other systems we’ve used.”

The maintenance technician (or FEM Tech) has a unique position at Corps dams. They have to work with the administrative and finance staff to keep track of budgeting and accounting, and they also have to maintain records for the trades and crafts crews as well.

“As the maintenance tech, you’re in a unique position to communicate between the administrative staff and the maintenance crews. You need to understand what they are working with,” Laura Hubert explained. “I need to have a foot in each area, knowing what each of them does. I like to go down to the powerhouse when I have time to get a concept of what they are talking about when I see a work order come in. If there’s a unique thing happening they will ask me to come down and look at it so I can understand what they are doing.”

Though the FEM system has been integrated even more by the maintenance technicians in Corps projects further west, such as Fort Peck Dam, it’s already been a great relief to the maintenance crews at Fort Randall.

“Our FEM tech Laura is exceptional and she makes it easier for us to do our job,” said Senior Electrician, Bill Reiser, a 22-year veteran of the Fort Randall project. “It seems like she fixes everything, and makes sure we’re tracking it.”

“Our FEM tech is really important to us. She keeps everything straight for us,” said Rod Bergin, senior mechanic and 18-year veteran of the Corps. “When I can’t find something, she finds it right away.”


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